Tonkotsu Ramen @ Himawari, San Mateo

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The Tonkotsu Ramen @ Himawari, San Mateo.

I’ll just cut to the chase. San Mateo boasts a quartet of reputable ramen shops: Ramen Dojo, Santa Ramen, Ramen Parlor, and Himawari. These are the four noodle joints that dominate the San Mateo landscape. Three of these restaurants (all but Himawari) are owned by the same chef, Kazunori Kobayashi, who launched his mini-empire with Santa back before ramen was a thing (the original Santa location was where Ramen Dojo is now).

In some ways, Kobayashi is what Thomas Keller is to Yountville, though that might be a stretch. I guess it all depends on how much you obsess over ramen. I enjoy it quite a bit, myself.

With Kobayashi quietly dominating the ramen landscape in San Mateo, Himawari is kind of the independent option in town, which is absolutely welcome. Even under the best circumstances, you don’t want all of your ramen [… read more …]

Afternoon Sichuan Session @ Spices Restaurant, Foster City

Ma Po Tofu

“Kiss of Fire” Orange Beef.

I drove 70 miles on Wednesday for Ramen Dojo’s Garlic Pork Ramen, a dish that I first reviewed here almost a year and a half ago. Although I don’t begrudge the distance, in some ways, my trip to San Mateo was a failed mission; ostensibly, I was hoping to snap a better picture than I did last time, although ultimately, that just wasn’t going to happen (despite my best efforts, I achieved the exact same results, more or less). Not to make excuses, but with its heavily-tinted front windows and sparse track lighting, Ramen Dojo offers very little in the way of illumination. I guess I had sort of forgotten. Anyhow, the restaurant’s signature Garlic Pork Ramen remains outstanding, which is the important thing. So, rather than repeat the past with another ramen run-down (and yet another lousy picture), I decided to eat [… read more …]

10 Things I’ll Eat Again in 2011:

Crispy Shrimp with Ginger and Onions.

End-of-the-year recaps present a great opportunity to “re-purpose” some old content (I learned this valuable euphemism during the dot-com era). Here are 10 dishes that I really enjoyed this year, in no particular order. I’m not saying this list comprises my top 10 dishes for the year, but some of them could definitely qualify. Clicking the photos will transport you back to the original article — and perhaps, a much simpler time and place.

Crispy Shrimp with Ginger and Onions.

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Flounder special @ Yuet Lee, San Francisco.

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The #6 Banh Mi @ Viet Nam, San Francisco.

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Black pepper brisket hash @ Fremont Diner, Sonoma Carneros.

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Chilaquiles @ Miguel’s, Calistoga.

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Señorita bread @ Star Bread Bakery, Vallejo.

The Garlic Pork Broth Ramen @ Ramen Dojo, San Mateo

Better than the photo: The Garlic Pork Ramen @ Ramen Dojo, San Mateo.

I must admit, the garlic pork broth at Ramen Dojo caught me a little bit off guard last week, as I had to stifle a small cough after the first jolt of pepper hit the back of my throat. Wow, I thought, this is the regular spicy? Okay, then. As my eyes began to water, I wondered, have I totally lost my edge? Maybe so. I chased the first spoonful of soup with a healthy swig of oolong iced tea, then readied my taste buds for a second dose of broth. Six, seven spoonfuls later, I finally experienced a break-through: The numbing heat slowly began to subside, and the broth soon became more than just bearable — it became positively addictive. Myriad flavors emerged as my palate acclimated to the spiciness. There were, of course, [… read more …]

Shōyu Ramen with Kurobuta Pork @ Santa Ramen, San Mateo

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The Shōyu Ramen with Kurobuta Pork @ Santa Ramen, San Mateo.

Despite my best attempts, the lack of natural lighting at Santa Ramen lends itself to some pretty garish photographs, heavily contrasted, and vaguely reminiscent of a 70s-era cookbook.  I normally wouldn’t publish a photo like the one posted above, but what other choice do I have? Santa Ramen does not offer to-go orders, and none of their tables border any windows (which all face east, allowing for almost zero afternoon sun). The restaurant itself is tucked away into an unassuming San Mateo strip mall, sharing a parking lot with Jo-Ann Fabrics & Crafts and the Men’s Wearhouse. Since these strip-mall surroundings serve to disguise the best bowl of ramen in the San Francisco Bay Area, I’ve become lenient with my own editorial standards, and I’ve decided to forge ahead with the best photo I can muster. So [… read more …]